An estimated 45 million consumers use the online travel review site TripAdvisor each month to help them choose hotels and restaurants. However, the site is now underfire with reports questioning the reliability of its giant rating system, which is easily the world’s largest.
Lawsuits are pending and alternative sites are popping due to "increasing pressure from hoteliers and restaurateurs, who claim that many of [TripAdvisors] anonymous reviews are either fake or defamatory,” writes the British-based newspaper The Telegraph. A recent television documentary summed it up as “Attack of the TripAdvisors.”
Several hoteliers are also taking legal action individually against the website for lost business, presenting their cases KwikChex, a reputation-management company.
If that was not controversy enough, The New York Times recently ran an article pointing out how some individuals are making money writing reviews, which are often fake, in return for fees. As many as 5 million of the most current reviews on the website could be fake, according to Chris Emmins, co-founder of KwikChex.com.
In response, TripAdvisor recently started a support line for disgruntled business owners. The company said it wanted to send a “strong message about our commitment to delivering quality customer care for accommodation owners.”
Small Businesses Hurt Most By Bad Reviews
Smaller businesses that have limited reviews are hurting the most from critical TripAdvisor reviews, media reports agree. “Most can't defend themselves against these negative, and often defamatory, reviews. Lawyers' fees mount up and it is incredibly difficult to sue TripAdvisor,” Emmins told Travel Mail.
Caroline Blake, consultant editor of the Good Hotel Guide, said on her blog that she had tested TripAdvisor by posting fake reviews. They appeared on the site immediately. “It is despicable that people who haven't even stayed at hotels can wax lyrical about them to improve bookings,” she writes.
Rival websites are at times using criticism of TripAdvisor to promote their own product. Feefo, for example – which specializes in retail reviews and requires proof of purchase before accepting reports – promises to deliver “the kind of authenticity that TripAdvisor is widely criticized for not guaranteeing.”
They are far from alone in offering alternatives to TripAdvisor. For example, Lodging Interactive and Social Media Marketing Agency announced their own “Guest Review System” designed for hotels, restaurants and spas.
“This trend is not going away, and hoteliers have told us they need more control over the guest review process,” Social Media Marketing Agency founder and President DJ Vallauri told TravelMole.
Using the online Guest Review System, hotels can collect comments and feedback directly from their guests on overall satisfaction and quality of service. The reviews are then posted on the hotel's website and then can be shared via major social networks.
Hotels are notified in real-time of new guest reviews, and can validate guest stay information before reviews are posted on their web site. The company says its service is low-cost and it offers a free trial.
Hotel giant Starwood is also launching its own in-house review site for its chain of hotels, including Sheraton, Westin, W and other Starwood properties. The review system allows guests to directly assess their stay on the chain’s websites. The reviews are posted for any audience to see and can be shared via major social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook.
Key Statistics - Online Travel Research (source: Vacation Rental Manager Association’s Annual Conference, October 2011)
- More than 67% of survey respondents say they trust online reviews just as much as word-of-mouth recommendations.
- Almost half or 49% regularly read online hotel reviews.
- One in four or 25% report reading online comments.